Cougar girls try to bounce back

SCT soccer title taken by Pingry

By Justin Feil, Assistant Sports Editor
   BRIDGEWATER — In 2005, the Montgomery High School girls’ soccer team followed up a disappointing loss in the Somerset County Tournament by winning a share of the Group III state championship.
   The Cougars are hoping to regroup quickly for the Group IV crown after a crushing 3-2 overtime loss to Pingry in the SCT final Saturday.
   ”We’re going to try to channel it, try to heal, try to let it motivate us,” said MHS head coach Jeremy Beardsley after his team lost for the second time this year. “The last time we lost a game, we went on a 12- or 13-game winning streak. Hopefully that happens again. We have five to win. Hopefully we can use that to motivate us.”
   The Cougars, who were scheduled to open Central Jersey Group IV play against Manalapan on Monday, have all the motivation they needed after seeing their chances of repeating at county champions dashed by a pair of questionable goals where Pingry players appeared to be offside. The first was the only goal of the first half, while the second ended the game 43 seconds into the first sudden-victory overtime period. Pingry standout Brittani Bartok, a member of the United States U-17 National Team, scored both of those goals.
   ”There’s some things you can’t control,” Beardsley said. “We controlled everything that we could control. We put together a fantastic game. You can’t control the referees.
   ”It’s hard enough to contain (Bartok). The last thing she needs is help from the referee. She’s a fantastic player. She doesn’t need any help.”
   MHS saw two of its first-half chances bounce off posts, but was able to put behind it what they considered a bad no-call to take the lead.
   ”That’s what got us through, it was a pretty one-sided first half,” Beardsley said. “We thought we really dominated them and just got a little unlucky. That was kind of the thing that got us through and allowed us to know this thing is completely in our hands.
   ”We came out and continued to play like we did at the beginning of the game and in the first half and got one. I had no doubt. I was very confident and the girls were too that something was going to break our way and we got a goal.”
   Lauren McClintic followed up a deflected shot to equal the score, 1-1, six minutes into the second half. Then, less than 30 seconds after being reinserted in the game, Alex Vazquez put the Cougars ahead on a brilliant individual effort in which she eluded two Pingry defenders and went far post for the go-ahead goal with 25 minutes left in the half.
   ”That’s special stuff,” Beardsley said. “The girl’s playing on a torn ankle with eight rolls of tape on it. She has unbelievable courage and desire. That should have been the game-winning goal.”
   But Beardsley saw his team begin to fatigue over the final 10 minutes of the game, and with it came some dangerous Pingry chances. He tried numerous moves up front and switched several players who were helping in the back, but Pingry managed a goal on a ball that was not cleared with 4:10 left in regulation.
   ”I thought we got our energy back in the overtime,” Beardsley said. “We were ready to go.”
   The Cougars didn’t have the chance for long. MHS’ defense had pulled forward as the Pingry attack sent a through ball to Bartok, who along with another teammate appeared behind the Cougar defense when the ball was kicked. The side referee did not see it that way despite Montgomery’s protests. Bartok gathered the pass, dribbled unimpeded to her right and buried the game-winner.
   ”I think you’ve got to find a way to channel the hurt to have it motivate you instead of just eat at you,” Beardsley said. “Honestly, I certainly wouldn’t be upset or fault the girls if we come out on Monday and have a tough time playing in that environment. We’re talking about having a state game in a couple hours after something like this.”
   A core group of nine seniors goes for the Cougars’ final goal of the season — a state title. MHS has already won its first Skyland Conference Delaware East Division championship, but the seniors hope to lead the Cougars to one more crown.
   ”They’re some of the girls that are hurting the most,” Beardsley said. “This was their mission and it was stolen from them and it’s wrong. I don’t know if they can respond. They’re great kids and I hope they can. But they’re hurting and they’re just kids.”